The Portrayal of Mental Illness in “Girl, Interrupted”
The film “Girl, Interrupted” is a true story adapted from the original memoir by Susanna Kaysen. Set in the 1960s, it relates her experiences during her stay in a mental institution after being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder following a suicide attempt. Many films include characters with a mental illness; the actors who play these characters have the immense challenge of staying true to the illness they portray. The main character in “Girl, Interrupted,” Susanna Kaysen, played by Winona Ryder, was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. According to the DSM-IV-TR (2000) borderline personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of instability in relationships, self image and affects, and marked impulsivity. Individuals with this disorder tend to make frantic attempts to avoid real or imagined abandonment and are intolerant of being alone; they also have a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by extremes of idealization and devaluation (DSM-IV-TR, 2000). They have identity disturbance; markedly and persistently unstable self image or sense of self, and also display impulsivity in at least two areas that are self damaging; for instance spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating, and so on. People with borderline personality disorder also show recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures or threats or engage in self-mutilating behavior. Another symptom is affective instability due to marked reactivity of mood such as intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety lasting only a few hours and only rarely more than a few days. They experience chronic feelings of emptiness, and also display inappropriate intense anger or difficulty controlling anger by frequent displays of temper, constant anger and physical fights. Lastly, they experience transient stress related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms (DSM-IV-TR, 2000).